There have been some truly memorable nights in Piraeus were even the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Juventus were forced to bow down before the Champions of Greece…
As someone who was practically raised inside the ruins of the old ‘Karaiskakis’ stadium by my late father, then later brought to the Olympic Stadium of Athens where the Olympiacos football club would go on to play the rest of their games until finally moving to their renovated home ground Piraeus — with a small break at Rizoupoli — in which they remain until today, moving to Australia was like having a part of myself being ripped away.
Being so far away from the team, unable to attend the games and see the players up close, is very difficult and only someone with a real passion for a sport and a team they grew up with can begin to understand. You don’t choose them, they stay with you, for the good times and the bad. Like a child or a sibling. You always want them to do well and through their success, you feel a strong sense of pride. Introducing me to this club was the one great thing my father left me with before passing away.
And the times this pride hit its peak is when I would see them doing well against the greatest opponents the sport has to offer. When they would face all the highly advertised Arsenals and Real Madrids and Dortmunds of the world and come out on top. That’s truly when you feel so happy that your small club, the one you’ve been supporting ever since you were a little boy, is having its name heard all across the world. Nothing can compare to that feeling!
After a whole day of sitting back and watching many of Olympiacos’ European success stories from season 1998–99 up until today, I decided I would write an article about the most significant among them to keep as a record for future generations. So here we go.
1998–99: Olympiacos — Ajax 1–0: What a beauty!
In a year that would see the ‘erythrolefki’ go all the way to the quarter-finals (only to have their hopes dashed by an Antonio Conte goal in the 85th minute by Juventus,) one of the games that remains in most people’s memories was undoubtedly the home clash with Ajax. Not just for the superb goal provided by Alexis Alexandris that left famous goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar simply watching the ball slide into the back of his net, but also for the way the club dominated their well-known opponents.
The Dutch champions were a highly-respected team that had made it all the way to the final a couple of years earlier. Sure, they had lost a couple of players here and there but they still remained a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand were a group of rag tag nobodies from Greece that no one had even heard of. Ajax were left stunned by the waves of attacks that came at them. In the end, they were very fortunate to walk away with a narrow 1–0 loss, in a night that few will ever forget.
1999–00: Olympiacos — Real Madrid 3–3: Giovanni introduces himself to Piraeus!
A few months later and after their great efforts in the Champions League, then-president Sokratis Kokkalis decides to bolster his squad with a few quality signings. Chief among them was FC Barcelona and Brazil international Giovanni Silva De Oliveira, a man that had a very special relationship with the ball. His opening act, as fate would have it, was against his former rivals in Catalonia, Real Madrid.
And boy, did he take his vengeance on them! With two goals and a magnificent performance, the over 75,000 fans that filled up the Olympic stadium of Athens were quick to realize that they now had a star player in their squad. Of course, this is Real Madrid that we’re talking about and thanks to their own quality as a team, fans were given yet another night to remember, with the final score ending at 3–3. Goals were provided by Giovanni (2), Zahovic for Olympiacos and Solari, Roberto Carlos and a late equalizer by Raul for the ‘merengues’.
2000–01: Olympiacos — Valencia 1–0: The captain finally breaks the deadlock!
This victory was very significant for the club for a number of reasons. Chief among them was the fact that they were up against a team that during the last season had made it all the way to the final of the Champions League — a feat that they would go on to repeat in the next season as well. Additionally, in the first game between the two teams at the ‘Mestalla’ (2–1), Olympiacos felt that they respected their opponents a little more than they should have and they could’ve walked away with something more in the end.
Ultimately it was all about the hurt ego of the players and having something to prove. And they did. That night they came out in front of an erupting Olympic stadium and proved to their fans that no matter who their opponent is, they had what it takes to win. It required a lot of patience, but a penalty on Stelios Giannakopoulos by current French national team coach Didier Deschamps gave Predrag Djordjevic the opportunity to go up against Santiago Canizares from the spot. The Serbian rarely made any errors from that point and handed the Andalusians their only loss of the competition until the final were they would ultimately lose the trophy to Bayern on the penalty shootout.
2001–02: Deportivo La Coruna — Olympiacos 2–2: Blunder at the last seconds…
Olympiacos opened the 2001–02 Champions League season with a shocking performance. In fact they came very close to their first ever away from home victory, but it wasn’t meant to be just yet…
It all happened at the ‘Riazor’. When then Spanish champions La Coruna opened the score with Fran Gonzalez, everything seemed to be taking its natural course for the team from Piraeus. That is until Peter Ofori-Quaye was introduced into the game…
The young Ghanaian turned the Spanish defense inside out with his quick feet and it was thanks to his tricks that Olympiacos were able to turn the game on its head in the second half. With the ‘erythrolefki’ hanging on to a slim 1–2 lead, the La Coruna players lifted the ball towards the back of the Greek defense during the final seconds. Unfortunately, it found the foot of the unmarked Juan Carlos Valeron who had little trouble bringing the two teams back on level terms as Jorge Bermudez and goalkeeper Dimitris Eleftheropoulos were left arguing between who was supposed to be marking him.
Olympiacos were cruelly denied an impressive victory over a very strong opponent…
2002–03: Olympiacos — Bayer Leverkusen 6–2: Grinding the aspirins into dust!
But if the 2001–02 season opened impressively for the team, their next season debut was spectacular! Playing host to Bayer Leverkusen, the team that had reached the Champions League final a few months earlier, Olympiacos were the clear outsider in the encounter. In fact, people said they would be lucky to walk away with a one-goal loss.
The situation was made even more grim when the German team gained an early advantage thanks to an own goal by Dimitris Eleftheropoulos. But what happened next blew everyone’s minds…
Olympiacos came forward, guns blazing! Wave after wave of attacks left the German defense in total shambles. And everything was going in. By the end of the first half, not only had the home side taken back the lead, but they had also built up a comfortable advantage: 3–1.
And in the second half they picked up right from where they left off! Three more to their tally, with captain Predrag Djordjevic having the night of his career as he found his way to a hat-trick. By the end, the scoreboard wrote Olympiacos 6, Bayer Leverkusen 2! You have to be a pretty big club to record one of your biggest wins in European competitions over a freaking FINALIST! What. A. Night!
2004–05: Olympiacos — Liverpool 1–0: Welcome to our new castle!
After the 2004 Olympic Games that were held in Athens, Olympiacos finally moved their brand new flashy stadium in Piraeus, the “Karaiskakis”. Their first official game European game that the stadium would host was against Premier League giants Liverpool. Additionally, during the summer transfer period the ‘erythrolefki’ had significantly strengthened their team by adding former Ballon d’Or winner Rivaldo to their roster.
With 33,000 crazy fans chanting in the stands and the two Brazilians (Rivaldo and Giovanni) dancing samba inside the pitch of the ‘Karaiaskakis’, there wasn’t a single team that could walk away as winners on that night, not even the mighty Liverpool that created the miracle of Istanbul! Olympiacos trampled on Steven Gerrard’s team, making them look small and insignificant as they hardly created any chances on the pitch. It was one of the most dominating appearances against such a highly reputable team ever seen by this club, despite the fact that they ended the game with ten men due to Tasos Pantos being sent off for a foul on Aussie winger Harry Kewell.
The only bad thing to come out of the game was the final score, since if it was more reflective of the encounter Olympiacos would’ve easily been the team to qualify to the next round and the miracle of Istanbul would’ve never happened. Oh well…
2007–2008: Werder Bremen — Olympiacos 1–3: First away win!
It may have taken a few years, but Olympiacos were finally able to find their first win away from Greece in the 2007–08 season. It happened in Bremen, against a very difficult opponent and in a very hard-fought contest.
Werder, who had finished second in the Bundesliga the previous season, were expected to have an easy night against the Greek champions. But a well made up plan by then-coach Takis Lemonis surprised the home side, who despite taking an early lead into the dressing rooms with Hugo Almeida, were caught off guard by the quick counter-attacks made by the ‘erythrolefki’. With Akis Stoltidis bringing the scores level, Christos Patsatzoglou fired a rocket from long range to bring his team on top. Darko Kovacevic put the icing on the cake in the closing minutes of the game, to give the team what they were looking for in over ten seasons.
2007–08: SS Lazio — Olympiacos 1–2: Back-to-back away wins!
As if they had pulled some sort of switch, from the point where they were inventing new ways to lose their away games, now it was like they couldn’t stop winning! After walking away from a 1–3 win against Bremen, their next challenge was at the ‘Olimpico’ against Italian side Lazio.
And they did it again! Even though the home side went in front with Goran Pandev, the visitors quickly found the equalizer thanks to Luciano Galletti and then a quick exchange between Stoltidis-Djordjevic and Kovacevic saw the latter tap the ball into the Italian net, giving his team a second consecutive away-from-home victory.
They would try and find a third but eventually go down to Real Madrid 4–2, in a game many remember till this day. It was a highly successful season for Olympiacos, who made it to the round of 16 only to be disqualified by Chelsea.
2008–09: UEFA Cup adventures against Benfica and Hertha
The 2008–09 season was a bit strange for Olympiacos. With bitter rivals Panathinaikos having won the league (they were actually considered a threat back then) Olympiacos was knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers by Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta.
They would go on to participate in the group stage of the latter UEFA tournament, the UEFA Cup, as it was known back then, recording some of their most impressive victories and playing a highly attractive style of football under the orders of coach Ernesto Valverde. Yes, the same one that was at FC Barcelona up until a few months ago.
Their ‘victims’ were Portuguese side Benfica, whom they annihilated 5–1, with Brazilian striker Luis Diogo scoring two goals and Hertha Berlin, who they beat 4–0. Yet, despite having the best goal average in their group, they failed to qualify, as once again they couldn’t pick up any points away from home.
2011–12: Olympiacos — Borussia Dortmund 3–1: Keep the change!
After a couple of odd seasons, one during which Olympiacos actually qualified to the round of 16 only to be knocked out by Bordeaux and another in which they finished fifth in the league, failing to participate in any European competition, things looked to go back to normal for the club.
In one of their trademark nights, they played host to Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels’ Dortmund, teaching them what the Champions League is all about. Even though things looked like they were on a very tight balance for a while, eventually it was Olympiacos that came out on top, thanks to the efforts of their midfield lead by Argentine play maker Ariel Ibagaza and Belgian winger Kevin Mirallas and the hard work of Spanish defensive midfielder Pablo Orbaiz. Also the solid presence of Swedish international Olaf Mellberg at the back was enough on its own to put a stop to any attempts made by the German side. It was truly a team with many good players!
2011–12: Olympique Marseille — Olympiacos 0–1: Unlikely heroes!
During the same season, Olympiacos traveled to the ‘Velodrome’ to take on Olympique de Marseille, a well-known team from France with many high quality players.
Olympiacos had lost the opening game of the group stage at home against the ‘Phocaeans’ so they knew they needed to be wary of them. Despite their many key players, some of which were mentioned above, it was two substitutes that allowed Olympiacos to walk away unscathed from France: Fran Yeste and Giorgos Fetfatzidis. A clever ball by the Spaniard allowed the young Greek to come out wide and take a shot towards Steve Mandanda’s net, beating the French international and creating the final score: Marseille — Olympiacos 0–1.
2013–14: Olympiacos — Manchester United 2–0: Bow down to the king!
After yet another uneventful season, the Olympiacos board of directors decided to shake things up a bit and start investing in young players, both from Greece and abroad, expanding their scouting network, while at the same time bringing in some older and more experienced players such as Javier Saviola or Alejandro ‘Chori’ Dominguez that would help the youngsters grow and develop.
This combination of youth and experience, under the tutelage of former Real Madrid legend Michel, was able to qualify from the group stage of the 2013–14 Champions League, leaving out Benfica and Anderlecht and coming second only to Paris Saint-Germain. Their next opponent in the round of 16 was Manchester United, a team they had never beaten in their previous four games either home and away.
But that didn’t deter them from looking their grand opposition in the eye and taking them down a peg or two. In a night many Olympiacos fans will remember for most of their lives, the superior Manchester United were made to look like a run-of-the-mill Greek side as they barely made a chance all night. Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Robin Van Persie were nowhere to be found on the encounter as a goal in each half, provided by Dominguez and Arsenal youth academy product Joel Campbell respectively created the final score, 2–0.
Sadly it would not prove to be enough as the force of the ‘Old Trafford’ was too much to contend with for the young Olympiacos team and a fortnight later they lost hands down 3–0 thanks to a Van Persie hat-trick and were disqualified from the competition.
2014–15: Third against two finalists!
In a season that will be hard to forget, Olympiacos were put in a group against two finalists: 2014 finalist Atletico Madrid and the club who would reach the 2015 final, Juventus.
And yet, they took them both down! In the opening game of the tournament, Olympiacos were able to defeat Diego Simeone’s Atletico 3–2, mainly thanks to former Dutch international and FC Barcelona star Ibrahim Afellay’s performance and Greek international Kostas Mitroglou’s great relationship with the opponent’s net. Not even Antoine Griezmann or Mario Mandzukic could deter the ‘rojiblancos’ from losing in Piraeus.
A few weeks later, it was the ‘vecchia singiora’s’ turn to taste defeat at the hands of the Greek giants. All it took was one counter-attack and a quick exchange of the ball between Mitroglou and ‘Chori’ to set up Swiss international Pajtim Kassami who had no problem dropping the ball into the back of Gianluigi Buffon’s net.
In fact, it would’ve been the ‘erythrolefki’ to advance from the group had they not lost their game in Norway against Malmoe, 2–0! That’s who kept them from advancing from such a difficult group. Not Juve, not Alteti… Malmoe!
2015–16: Arsenal — Olympiacos 2–3: The ‘special relationship’ begins…
The next season, Olympiacos is drawn in the same group with Bayern Munich and Arsenal. No one gives the Greek team any chances of survival, after all they’ve already played a couple of times with the ‘gunners’ in the past and have lost all their games in England. They’ve barely ever even scored in the country!
Having already lost their first game at home to Bayern, 0–3, the Greek team ventures to the ‘Emirates’ having been written off by everyone, even their opposition who brings out a side full of substitutes despite the fact that this is only round two. You see, Arsenal are playing Southampton on the weekend and that’s a much more important game than Olympiaaakoos…
Taking it as a sign of complete disrespect, the Greek side go forward and take the lead early on, thanks to a clever corner kick by Kostas Fortounis and a shot from outside the box by Colombian winger Felipe Pardo. Arsenal, now rushing to find answers, are able to equalize thanks to one of the few first team players they have on the pitch, Theo Walcott.
But this night belongs to Olympiacos! After yet another corner kick, Fortounis finds (substitute) goalkeeper David Ospina daydreaming and drifts the ball past the line to put the visitors back in front. The Arsenal manager (back then) Arsene Wenger is now frantically looking for his subs, trying to salvage what he can from the game.
The home side pushes forward but the Olympiacos defense is easily able to keep them out. Eventually the ball falls to Alexis Sanchez who brings the scores level once again, but while Arsenal are busy celebrating, Olympiacos go forward. Esteban Cambiasso feeds the ball to Pardo who finds Alfred Finnbogason alone in the area for the Iceland striker to finally settle matters once and for all: Olympiacos are going home with the win!
This would not be the last time the ‘erythrolefki’ upset the ‘Emirates’ either, but we’ll get to that in a bit…
2018–19: Olympiacos — AC Milan 3–1: Taking down a legend!
While it may be true that AC Milan were nowhere near the team that they were at the start of the decade, that still takes nothing away from the significance of this success, considering it was made against a club of such stature that can only be compared to Real Madrid.
With an leadership performance by Kostas Fortounis and Guillherme, a lot of persistence by all of the players and the fans who stuck behind them for 90 minutes and beyond and substitute Vasilis Torosidis immediately making an impact as soon as he entered the pitch thanks to his energy and experience, the team were able to not only win, but find the score they were looking for in order to advance from the Europa League group stage alongside Real Betis.
2019–20: Olympiacos — Tottenham Hotspur 2–2: You shall not pass!
After being relegated to the Europa League for a while, it was time for the Piraeus club to return to the Champions League. Yet the draw they got for their group was harsh: Bayern Munich and last season’s finalists, Tottenham Hotspur, alongside Red Star Belgrade!
In the opening game of the group, Olympiacos were to host the English team and they felt good about their chances, considering their history with Champions League finalists on opening nights (Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen, Atletico Madrid.) Yet this time, things weren’t going in their favor, as an early Harry Kane penalty kick and a blast by Lucas Moura from 30 metres left them two goals down after 30 minutes!
But that didn’t matter. It made very little difference to them. With one minute to go, a quick combo between former French international Matthieu Valbuena and Portuguese import Daniel Podence gave the home side a lifeline, which they made good on early in the second half when the French playmaker was brought down in the box by Jan Verthongen. He made no mistake from the spot, bringing his team back on level terms and into the match. Olympiacos fought on, but couldn’t find a third. Still, it was a night to remember!
2019–20: Arsenal — Olympiacos 1–2 (a.e.t.): Shocking the Premier League!
Still, during that season Olympiacos made some very convincing performances. Against Tottenham in London, against Bayern in Germany, it was plain to see that they were a very well-trained side and anyone who would underestimate them was going to pay the price.
They were relegated to the Europa League were they were drawn against Arsenal once again. The two teams knew each other really well, having been forced to play each other at least once every two or three seasons since 2012.
This was a bad period for the ‘gunners’. They were going through a transitional stage after Arsene Wenger’s departure and Mikel Arteta taking over. It was not looking good for them, in the Premier League at least.
In Europe, things were a bit different as they had no problems advancing from their group in the Europa League. In fact, they didn’t drop a single point in their six games first games.
They travelled to Piraeus feeling confident and were able to walk away with a win thanks to a goal by Alexandre Lacazette. And this time, Mikel Arteta wasn’t planning on making his predecessor’s mistakes; he had no intention of underestimating Olympiacos.
But still, the visitng side lead by Portuguese manager Pedro Martins appeared very disciplined in England. In fact, a little too disciplined. They were too hard to open up, their defense was rock solid. Arsenal were struggling to find any opportunities in front of their home crowd as Olympiacos were gaining more and more confidence up front. And it was a well-known fact, thanks to his performances and goals against Tottenham and Bayern, that their striker, Youssef El Arabi, was a force to be reckoned with.
Early in the second half and Olympiacos have found themselves with a corner kick. Valbuena sends it in… Pape Abou Cisse, unmarked, unchallenged, heads it to the back of the net! Arsenal’s advantage, wiped clean off, just like that! The over 10,000 crazy Olympiacos fans that made the journey to London are going crazy in the stands. It’s a whole different game now.
Arteta brings on all he has… Mesut Ozil, Patrick Aubameyang, Lacazette, Pepe, Torreira, they’re all on the pitch, in the hopes that someone finds a solution before the 90 minutes to end this nightmare. But to no avail. Olympiacos are rather comfortably able to maintain the rather fragile score line and take the game to extra time.
The visitors take advantage of Arsenal’s frantic efforts to find a goal and go on the break with more consistency. However, their tired legs mess up in the end and they can’t make the most of their chances. Eventually, Arsenal are able to find the goal they’ve so desperately been looking for, with Aubameyang scoring an impressive bicycle kick in front of Olympiacos skipper Omar Elabdellaoui, making everyone think that this is all over now. But the ‘gunners’ are a bit too quick to breathe a sigh of relief. The side from Piraeus have not had their final say in the tie…
Final seconds of extra time. Substitute Giorgos Masouras takes a corner kick for Elabdellaoui. The Norwegian gives it back to him on the right wing. The Greek international examines his options and decides to cross it into the box, seeing the run of El Arabi behind David Luiz and Sokratis Papastathopoulos…
AND IT’S IN!!! El Arabi scores on the final minute of extra time to leave Arsenal out of the Europa League and take Olympiacos through to the round of 16 in one of the greatest accomplishments in the club’s history!
This win and consequential qualification will forever remain in the Olympiacos history books, not just for the way it was achieved, but for the name of the opponent it was made against. Arsenal were Europa League finalists when they played against Olympiacos (what is it with finalists…)
And that’s a wrap! I don’t know if you stayed with me this long or if you got burned out somewhere along the way, but I hope you had fun reading this and looking back on some of the most important victories ever made by the team in red-and-white! Hopefully though this is only the beginning and the best is yet to come for Olympiacos! Here’s to many more great European nights!